Despite its armed forces being well-equipped and potentially having a significant technological advantage, Taiwan will always be dwarfed by China, who, in recent years, has become increasingly assertive on its subjugation in the democratic island country. Thus, like how David defeated Goliath, Taipei needs to be more strategically smart to outwit their giant bully of a neighbor, Beijing.

Seeing how effective drones are in bolstering defense capability and counteroffensive tactics in the battleground of Ukraine, Taiwan has spent ample resources on ramping up its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capacity—particularly focusing on homegrown innovations to ensure self-sufficiency in times of conflict.

Key to Asymmetric Warfare

On Tuesday, Taiwan showcased some of its latest homegrown combat drones to the public, introducing these cutting-edge technologies as a key weapon to its “asymmetric warfare” capacity. Taipei’s armed forces have collaborated with the country’s most renowned manufacturers to strengthen its defense capacity against a far larger Chinese military.

National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), a military-owned manufacturing corporation, unveiled eight locally developed UAVs—including five models shown to the public for the first time. While these drones vary in size, they are all outfitted with the latest technology, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS) satellites, ranging from combat to surveillance capabilities to accommodate Taiwan’s military branches.

In a report by Reuters, NCSIST head Art Chang said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had prompted the island country to seek to develop more military drones, as it saw its effectiveness in fending off assaults as well as in conducting counterattacks and surveillance without putting soldiers at risk.

Meanwhile, Chi Li-Pin, director of the Aeronautical Systems Research Division for NCSIST, said that the armed forces had increased their adoption of drones in their strategies in line with its comprehensive asymmetrical warfare tactic, which Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen endorsed last year.

I hope our national troops can familiarise themselves with this weapon of asymmetric warfare and use them boldly,” Chi told reporters who visited the NCSIST facility in central Taiwan. Through its partnership with companies, Taiwan aims to produce at least 3,000 UAVs as early as the end of this year.

Currently, the armed forces have been testing out the new models displayed at Tuesday’s exhibition, and once specifications have been verified, mass production will immediately ensue.

Taiwan’s Indigenous Attack Drones

As mentioned, five of the eight displayed drones were unveiled to the public for the first time, including the Albatross II surveillance drone, capable of performing extensive hours of tracking and monitoring naval ships over the sea using artificial intelligence (AI). According to CNN, the UAV can operate up to 16 hours straight and has a maximum range of over 300 kilometers (186 miles).

Likewise, the NCSIST introduced the Cardinal III UAV, capable of performing vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL) and is primarily designed to monitor activities along the coastline.

Another UAV on display is a Loitering Munition drone modeled after the American Switchblade 300, which Ukrainian forces have widely used to disable Russian radar systems. This Taiwanese drone has been identified as a crucial combat weapon that can be operated by a single soldier equipped with a warhead that can be used to strike targets on the ground from above.

Other drones showcased were Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAVs, which are capable of long-distance surveillance and have advanced air and sea warning, and attack drones with loitering munitions that can cruise toward a target before plummeting at velocity and detonating on impact.

Apart from the basic information, no more in-depth technical specifications have been provided by the NCSIST as these are considered classified by the Taiwanese government.

Preparing for the Worst

In recent years, China has increasingly become assertive over its subjugation of the democratic island, home to 23.5 million Taiwanese people, despite Taiwan’s strong objections. Beijing ramped up its military activities near the waters of Taipei, and with all that is happening in Ukraine with the same territorial claims that pushed Russia to launch its special military operation, the island country began seeking to boost its defense and military capabilities.

The tweet below is from August 2022, showing footage from a Chinese drone that wandered in Taiwan-controlled Kinmen island, followed by Taiwanese soldiers throwing rocks at it. When asked about the video, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “Chinese drones flying about Chinese territory, this is not something to make a fuss about.”

Moreover, China has also been very active in building up its combat capacity with drones. Thus the need for innovation in Taiwan’s armed forces was also significantly relevant, both combat and surveillance as well as anti-drone systems.

In response to China’s “total blockade” threats, Taiwan has diverted some of its budget spending into improving and replenishing artillery and rocket ammunition, as well as parts for F-16 jets, to assure combat readiness and self-sufficiency by producing the majority of these domestically.

For years, Taipei has been heavily relying on Washington to maintain its defense capabilities, with a recent arms deal approved by President Joe Biden of an estimated $619 million, which will include missiles for their F-16 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, Chinese leader Xi Jinping addressed the nation on Monday during his first speech to a rubber-stamp parliament, promising to strengthen Beijing’s security and continue to modernize its military into a “great wall of steel.”